Are we in for a season of chaos in the SEC?
A week after Mississippi State beat defending national champion LSU in Baton Rouge to open the 2020 season, the No. 16 Bulldogs lost at home 21-14 to Arkansas on Saturday night. It’s the first SEC win for Arkansas since Oct. 28, 2017, when the Razorbacks beat Ole Miss 38-37.
Mississippi State flubbed three chances to tie the game late in the final 10 minutes. The Bulldogs got stopped on fourth-and-short twice inside Arkansas territory and then fumbled a punt with just over 2:30 left after stopping Arkansas on a third-and-short.
After Arkansas was able to use up most of the clock, Mississippi State’s final drive didn’t go anywhere.
Mississippi State entered the game as a 17-point favorite because of that win over LSU. But the team that showed up against Arkansas looked nothing like the one that was in control for most of the game against the Tigers.
Yeah, KJ Costello threw it a lot again, but he wasn’t nearly as efficient. With Arkansas playing a ton of zone and daring Costello to pick it apart, he was content to settle for short throw after short throw. Costello was 43-of-59 passing but threw for just 313 yards. That’s 5.3 yards per attempt.
Yet MSU was still in position to pull out a win late in the game. And it couldn’t even get the game tied.
MSU’s disastrous fourth quarter
Costello threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-2 at the Arkansas 13 with 8:52 left. The decision to go for it was defensible; a field goal would have only cut the Razorback lead to four. And the failure to get the first down didn’t look nearly as bad after Mississippi State forced a quick punt.
But Costello messed up again on the next drive. He scrambled on third down and needed to get six yards for a first down at the Arkansas 5. But he fell forward a yard short of the markers as Arkansas defenders converged on him. A fourth-down run was stopped easily by the Razorback defense.
The last real chance came after Arkansas punted on that ensuing possession. But Jaden Walley fumbled the punt after calling for a fair catch. A personal foul penalty meant Arkansas couldn’t run out the clock but the Razorbacks only left Mississippi State with 25 seconds left and no timeouts.
A competitive Arkansas?
Maybe this Arkansas team isn’t going to be the doormat we’ve come to expect in the SEC West in recent years. New coach Sam Pittman hired Kendal Briles as his offensive coordinator and former Missouri coach Barry Odom as his defensive coordinator. And Odom’s defense played incredibly well on Saturday night.
Arkansas was competitive with Georgia for a half a week ago too. Yeah, Georgia ultimately won comfortably, but the Hogs defense looked extremely competent in the first 30 minutes.
Arkansas isn’t a contender to win the SEC West. But it at least looks like a team that will make things interesting and not serve as a guaranteed win for every other SEC team. That loss to Georgia was the 20th straight SEC loss for Arkansas.
Now the streak is at zero.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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